What can a technologist do?

I was interested to come across this article by Bret Victor, looking at different ways technologists can play a role in responding to the threat of climate change.

While I haven’t had a chance to fully dig in (it’s pretty comprehensive), there was one passage that caught my attention (in the Consuming Energy section:

If efficiency incentives and tools have been effective for utilities, manufacturers, and designers, what about for end users? One concern I’ve always had is that most people have no idea where their energy goes, so any attempt to conserve is like optimizing a program without a profiler.

Many of these projects are unsuccessful and possibly only marginally effective. I don’t think this means that efficiency feedback will always be unsuccessful — just that it needs to be done well, it needs to be actionable, and most importantly, it needs to be targeted at people with the motivation and leverage to take significant action.

Individual consumers and homeowners might not be the best targets. A more promising audience is people who manage large-scale systems and services.

This really resonates with me on a number of fronts. Continue reading

Code, Design, Sustainability

Random Hacks of Kindness Parramatta

This weekend I’ll be participating in the Random Hacks of Kindness hackathon being held at the Western Sydney University “LaunchPad” near Penrith. To my understanding, this is the first RHoK being put on by the Parramatta crew.

It’s been a while since I’ve engaged in hackathon-style activities, but this one caught my attention given its emphasis on Western Sydney (now that I reside in the Blue Mountains, I’m keen to engage in more activities closer to home). But also because of the nature of the projects that are being pitched/developed across the weekend. Continue reading

Business 2.0, Design, Sustainability

Digitally connecting to nature

I recently spotted a short doco/interview piece where Sir David Attenborough meets US President Barack Obama for a short interview on Sir David’s 89th birthday (the full interview is embedded below).

One part of the exchange caught my attention. At around 14:15, Sir David says:

Well, it is an extraordinary paradox isn’t it, that the United Nations tells us that over 50% of the human population on the planet are urbanised, which means that to some degree they are cut off from the natural world. And after all some people are totally cut off, they don’t see a wild creature from dawn to dusk unless it’s a rat or a pigeon. And yet at the same time, mass media can inform those people what the natural world is … if they don’t understand the workings of the natural world, they won’t take the trouble to protect it. That’s one of the roles that the media should have. Of maintaining a link between the population and understanding what goes on the natural world. Because why should they give up money, or taxes come to that, to protect the natural world, unless they actually care about it.

And later (~16:30) , President Obama indicates:

…what we’ve been doing is trying to initiate ways to get more children and young people to use the [national] parks, and as you said, so many of these kids are growing up cut off. They’re sitting on the couch, playing video games. If they experience nature its through a television screen, and just getting them out there so that they’re picking up that rock and finding that slug. They’re seeing that bird with colours that they’ve never seen before.

The discussion continues along these lines, the gist being that we need kids to get out into the natural world, discover it, to regain that connection to the natural world. And, I would suggest, to rediscover the connection between our individual actions and the impacts they have. For example, we flick on the switch to use power from burning coal a long distance away, creating pollution etc. If we had to burn that coal in our house for our energy use, we’d very quickly understand the ramifications. But we are so removed, this impact is barely even considered. Continue reading

Business 2.0, Design, Sustainability

Business 3 point oh?

Do you remember when “Web 2.0”, “Enterprise 2.0”, “Business 2.0″ was the (overhyped, much maligned) buzz word of the moment? It referred to the shift in the business world towards integrating social media and networking—both technologies but also models of engagement in and outside an organisation—into their operations.

Organisation ROI, Purpose, Network models

I was thinking about this recently, and realised that this is a large part of what Zumio is all about—not so much on the “social networking in the enterprise” sense (which would potentially link more to the Shared Value principle of “Redefining productivity in the value chain”, but more in the “Reconceiving products and markets” sense. Tossing around some ideas the other day, I jotted down the following Venn diagram (I’m a designer, what more is there to say?) that captures some of the essence of this thinking.

Seeing these “three pillars”, and building on the idea of “Business 2.0”, I thought what if it was called “Business 3.0”—with 1.0 being about returns, 2.0 being about the network model, and 3.0 connecting this to social responsibility and purpose.

I thought to myself, no doubt someone’s already tried to claim the term. And of course, they have. Fast Company use the term to define social and environmental responsibility. And the University of Queensland Business School put forward a Core Capabilities—Partnership, Community, Transparency, Trust—that look remarkably similar to some things I’ve written before ;)

When I look around, I can find lots of beacons that crossover between two of these spheres. For example, BCorps and shared value combine the ideas of purpose and return. Recent and up-coming conferences like the Social Good Summit and also explore this space. “Enterprise 2.0”–orientation, and considerations of the networked organisation (such as that outlined by Tim O’Reilly in his article Networks and the Nature of the Firm point to the overlap of the network organisation driving returns.

But I’ve not seen a lot of consideration about how these three sphere’s combine.

Perhaps there’s an assumption that any competitive organisation nowadays has to be digitally enabled, and thus, any forward thinking for-purpose organisation has that aspect down. But my experience is that this is far from reality.

And there is real power in combining all three.

The on-demand economy (I’m with commentators that eschew the term “sharing economy” for such enterprises) is a probably the best example of how these three elements can be combined, with commercial success.

Many of the biggest success stories in this space have significant environmental and social flow-on effects (many of them positive). AirBNB (unlocking value in underutilised space in the built environment, (at its best) enabling stronger social connections), Uber (unlocking the value of vehicles and, again, (at its best) enabling stronger social connections), iTunes + music sharing services like Spotify (reduction in packaging and materials use making CDs, transporting physical product etc.) and car rental services such as GoGet—serve as examples of digital technology supporting the process of dematerialisation.

Some other examples, looking from a different angle, are enterprises like Chuffed and StartSomeGood point in this direction, leveraging network organisation in the form of crowdfunding to support social projects. (One could argue that Kickstarter’s decision to become a BCorp puts them in a similar position.)

Each of these examples creates positive social and/or environmental outcomes and rely on network organisation models to achieve their goals, enabled by digital technology (that is, digital technology reduces the transaction cost for co-ordinating effort and value creation).

In each of case, the “digital” component is more than just the “product”. Uber and AirBNB are not just an app. The “apps” they create are an integral component to the overall success of the model, but it is the underpinning models of operation and value creation that are the key to their success.

When we say “we help for-purpose organisations build products and services that thrive in a connected world”, this is what we mean… It’s about creating a business strategy that harnesses network effects, supported by digital technology, to achieve meaningful results. Regardless of what we call it—“Business 3.0” or something else—we’re excited by the possibility of bringing more of these types of services to life, supporting the co-creation of value between organisations and their stakeholders or customers.

Business 2.0, Sustainability

Definition of shared value

This is a cross-posting of a post originally published on the IDX Backstage blog. Note that Ben from SVA has commented on the original post.

Over at the SVA Blog Ben McAlpine asks the question Shared Value – Is it worth the hype?.

Specifically, he notes a colleague asking how Shared Value is different to “smart business”.

Shared Value, is of course, smart business. But Ben’s description of Shared Value I think has an issue that I see in an awful lot in discussions about the topic. It touches on only the first of 3 pillars that are outlined in Porter and Kramer’s HBR paper that launched the term into the business mindset.

Continue reading